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Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting Rallies Interfaith Support


And other Pittsburgh faith communities took time during worship services today to acknowledge the tragedy at the Tree of Life synagogue. The Sewickley United Methodist Church, across town, opened their Sunday services to an interfaith group of worshippers. In the church sanctuary, there were 11 white roses displayed at the front, one for each of the people killed in yesterday's attack. And, during the service, each name was read out loud, and candles were lit in their memory. Pastor Russel Shuluga said he - that he held a special service to show his congregation support for the Jewish community in their time of need.

RUSSEL SHULUGA: Our intent was to express our solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters to remember those who were killed, to offer prayers but, as I mentioned in my sermon, to also find our voice, you know? We often say that we offer our prayers and thoughts. And that is fine, but we must do more. We must put those prayers into action. We must give them leaves. And, with our voice and with our actions, we can ensure that this hatred is not the new American way. It cannot be.

MARTIN: Do you have a sense that there were some people who might've been afraid to come out today because...



SHULUGA: Because we are an open and affirming congregation. Some people are afraid that puts a target on our back.

MARTIN: And, by open and affirming, you mean that everybody's welcome to worship here...

SHULUGA: Everyone's welcome. Everyone is welcome.

MARTIN: Regardless of sexual orientation, race, status...

SHULUGA: Right. Everyone is welcome and not only welcome but to be celebrated.

MARTIN: What was the attendance like today? Was it more than you expected?

SHULUGA: We had a couple of folks from the Jewish community come at the beginning and to offer their words of Thanksgiving. They did not stay to worship. But they did come and to say thank you for doing this. It makes a difference.

MARTIN: Do you mind if I ask? You don't seem rattled by this. Maybe you are on the inside. But, you know, this community's not that far from here...

SHULUGA: It is not...

MARTIN: And I just have to wonder - you - I mean, you were here. You...

SHULUGA: My daughter - my youngest daughter carried in the four roses in honor of the four police officers that were injured. Her husband is a police officer and was directly involved in yesterday's events because he's a police officer in Whitehall. And that's where the perpetrator lives. So it was very frightening for us, personally.


SHULUGA: I tried to allow God's spirit to give me the boldness that I need. I do not fear for myself. I guess, if I'm honest, I fear for my children, my grandchildren. But yet I can't allow hatred to intimidate me.

MARTIN: We also met Laura Hess. She is the nursery attendant at the church responsible for caring for the congregation's littlest members during worship. And, for her, yesterday's attacks on the synagogue, where a baby-naming ceremony was being held in the presence of children, hit very close to home.

LAURA HESS: Well, this church has, recently, kind of been coming up with plans of what to do in case of a situation like that. And, of course, as the nursery attendant, that has always been something that's been on my mind since I started here because I'm responsible for, you know, eight or nine children at a time and how I would evacuate them from the building or hide them in a situation, if it were to come down to it. So I just was running through my head kind of plans that I'd come up for years.

MARTIN: Really? Is that what occurred to you yesterday? When you heard about what happened, were you thinking, OK, what would I do in that situation?

HESS: Yeah. I grew up post-Columbine. So as a child, even in first grade, we had drills, even back then, of what to do if there was an active shooter in the school. And my whole life, I grew up in public school, constantly hearing about stuff like that. Sandy Hook happened when I was in high school or things like that. It just always kind of was in the back of my mind as kind of a shadow that I guess a lot of American kids are growing up with these days.

MARTIN: I don't know whether to be happy or sad - you know? - that you have that. Somehow, it hurts me to think that you...

HESS: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Have to think about that instead of thinking about what fun games to play.

HESS: Yeah. It's not a plan anyone wants to have, but it's become a reality that you - to be in that situation, not have thought of something or to be in that situation and to have - you know? You are the last protection for those children. And that's what you have to be thinking about.

MARTIN: We also met a father and son, Otis and Matthew McAliley, who were in attendance at the special services today. And Otis said his own life experiences allowed him to feel empathy for Pittsburgh's Jewish community.

OTIS MCALILEY: Being African-American, being black, we know about how these things happen, that if you walk through a certain neighborhood, people will look at you funny, don't want to feel that you should be there because of your color.

MARTIN: Matthew, what about you? I get the sense that this resonated with you, even though it wasn't - this particular attack wasn't directed at you...


MARTIN: And I just - can you just describe why that is?

MARTIN: Because I remember I was looking at the news yesterday. And I thought about Orlando because I'm gay, and Orlando resonated with me. I'm also black, and the South Carolina shooting resonated with me because it was people who were religious. And they got killed because they're religious. And this resonates with me because it's our American right to worship how we want to worship, when we want to worship, in peace. And for someone to come in and just murder them for loving the same God that they love is - it's just unbelievable to me.

MARTIN: Did it help being here today? Did it help being at church today...

M. MCALILEY: It did.

MARTIN: Yeah? How so?

M. MCALILEY: We're all together, mourning. And it really allowed me to lift up my anguish and say, you know, just put it on God's hands. And it gave me hope because, as Pastor Russel was speaking, the sun started to shine, and it's been cloudy all day in Pittsburgh. The sun was shining, and I felt like that was God telling me that, you know, I'm going to part these clouds. It's going to be dark and gloomy for a little bit, but I'm going to part these clouds and show you that I'm still here. I'm still lifting you guys up, and that's what made me smile. And I feel a little bit better. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.